history of the river erne ireland


The pleasures of boating on Lough Erne waterways has been enjoyed from the earliest of times. When private pleasure boat owners after the last war began to re-emerge, most felt that an annual organised outing would enhance the development of boating but, more importantly, encourage the public development of boating facilities on the waterway. It was from the earliest beginnings of a few annual get-together's in the late 1950's and early 60's that the idea of an Erne Boat Rally was born. Since its official outing in 1965, the event has grown in size, importance and in pleasure and after 25 years is now the premier water sport event in Northern Ireland, if not the entire island.

This year it is my great pleasure as Chairman of the Rally Committee to extend to all participants a most warm welcome. The great spirit of fun and lighthearted entertainment which has always been a central feature of the Rally will again, I know, be a fond recollection for old sailors and an unforgettable experience for the new. May I say then, to all our friends, pleasant sailing with lots of fun, and on our silver anniversary Rally have a wonderful time, Sincerely - Pat Mc Guinness.



I fell in love with the River Erne in 1952. When I came to reside in Belturbet in that year of grace one of my great discoveries was the lordly Erne. I encountered first hand all the amenities it offered by the way of boating, fishing, swimming and river walks on the old quay. I had heard old songs and stories of the Erne; I had listened with interest as experienced boats men described journeys on the Erne; but now I was smitten by its charm, with its beautiful islands and landscapes and the great expanses of water of the upper and lower lakes. I was soon a dedicated journeyman on this historic waterway.

I began with a small 16 foot open boat with 2.5 horsepower outboard motor and I had good fun messing about in this little craft. But soon the veteran boat men, particularly the fisherman who had spent their lives on the lakes declared this boat unsuitable for navigating the wide waters of Lough Erne, "it can blow up strong and get choppy at times". So I acquired a large 18 foot, 6 foot beam factory built open wooden boat with 4.5 horse power and set off like Huckleberry Finn, down my own Mississippi to the New Orleans of Enniskillen.

At first I thought I was doing fine to make a trip to Crom and back from Foailes Cut. I had been told that the wonders of Lough Erne began from the Crom waters downwards and soon my trips stretched beyond the narrow river as I ventured to Derryadd and the "New Bridges".

In those early days there were no charts for the waterway, no markers to guide the unwary boatman. I am happy to say that it is very simple nowadays for newcomers to navigate through the lakes. It was nothing strange, however, to hear of parties loosing their way in those earlier years. One good thing about my modest sixteen footer open boat was that one could drift in and out through the islands with little chance of hitting rock or running aground - a real hazard with a larger vessel. Knockninny was there, a monumental rock, and I got to know the landmarks and the shallows and I considered this new vista in my explorations to be the most satisfying part of the river Journey.

In those years a new hotel was opened at Carrybridge and I thought it a "must" to visit this "watering-hole" , an oasis for the thirsty boatman. This gave me the opportunity to explore the vast waters of the upper lake. The trip to Carrybridge was to become one of my popular runs and any time I was taking along one of my friends I would always make time for this extra treat. Not only did I introduce them to the beauty of the waterway, there was also a happy respite of some refreshments and lots of good company congenial surroundings at the end of our journey. We were soon on friendly terms with the proprietor and staff and all our visitors were assured of a real welcome at this stop.


But boating is not all sunshine and picnics. The main worry on the waterway, particularly in late summer and early autumn, was fog. Heavy fog would descend suddenly on the lakes and, as any experienced boatman will tell you, no matter how familiar you are with the Erne routes, a fog will bring you to a standstill.

We always tried in those foggy times of year to be back near Belturbet during daylight -closing time- let us admit, was another consideration as we headed happy homewards through Foalies Cut. I got myself caught in one of those fogs and I had no option but to throw down anchor and wait for the morning light on Crom.

1964 was a significant year in the boating record. A small number of open boats made the trip from Belturbet to Enniskillen in June of that year returning on the same day. The following year a number of cruiser owners made the trip upwards from Enniskillen and spent an enjoyable day with their hosts at Belturbet.

early erne baote rally  

I think these outings sparked off the idea of running an Annual Boat Rally. There were branches of the Inland Waterways Association in both Enniskillen and Belturbet and these branches joined together to organise the event. The first meeting was held in the home of Hubert and Florie Brown, there arrangements were made for The Erne Boat Rally. P.H O' Doherty was the first secretary, the late Victor Barham was Chairman and Hubert Brown was Treasurer. The first rally was planned for the following year, to be held on whit weekend. It was also proposed to hold an end of season Rally in september of that year.

I participated in those first years of the Rally with the open boat. I had some cooking gear, a tent and most importantly of all - a good mate. This mate was Cathal leddy and we were fortunate in the good weather of those early Rally's. The following year I had purchased a cabin cruiser. To enjoy a trip on the Erne, involving four or five days out, you have to be geared up with cooking capacity, a fridge, sleeping quarters and other necessary facilities.

I have had the privilege of taking part in all of The Erne Boat Rally's to date.

I can look back with fond memories of those 25 years, memories of great social occasions with friends and sing-song parties on the river banks and islands, or back at land base in Belturbet. I look forward to a few more trips on the idyllic Erne waters in the future.

My best wishes for the Erne are -, That all future users of this beautiful waterway will keep it unspoilt as it has been, and will avoid all forms of pollution, and finally, that all our countrymen will follow the example of the Erne boating people and meet together in peace and harmony and make this land of ours a happier place to live in.

Written By James C. Brady - 1990